It is an awesome mantle to carry: the ultimate summer Shore band. After all, Bill Haley and the Comets first played "Rock Around the Clock" live in Wildwood, and Bobby Rydell made a hit out of "Wildwood Days," singing about partying at the Shore.

Todd Rundgren and the Nazz were Shore-band guys, and Chubby Checker has claimed he first danced the twist there.

Also claiming their place in the beach-band sun are the Nerds, a bunch of Jersey guys who have been mainstays on the Monmouth County and Long Beach Island scene since, well, pocket protectors and ill-advised plaid became nebbishy cool.

"We got this idea in 1985 to dress up like nerds and play old rock music," said Jim Garcia, who, as "Spaz," is the lead singer and bass player for the band. "We figured it would be a good gimmick for maybe a couple of summers. Now, 20 years later, well, here we are."

And there they will be tonight at the House of Blues at Showboat, tape on their heavy black glasses, plaids and stripes mismatching, and doing Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow covers to die for.

As they approach 50, the Nerds find they have never been more popular. They're like your favorite uncle's oldies band - a little off, but in just the right way. Picture "At the Copa" with a rocking bass line, or a rousing, crowd-in-unison chorus of "Da, da, da" to "Sweet Caroline."

All right, so it's hard to believe hip could be that square, but it sure is a lot of fun.

"The world is a funny place," said Garcia. "Everyone in the band sits around and says, 'When are we - when are they - going to get sick of this?' But each year, I can't tell you, it gets better and better."

The House of Blues show will include, in addition to the usual four-piece Nerds, a horn section, a fiddle and banjo player, a percussionist and a film and slide show.

The crowd, Garcia predicted, will range from Gens X, Y and Z in their 20s and 30s to just-retireds in their 60s.

"There is such a limit in new rock-pop music for listening and dancing that people have really turned back to stuff at least from the late 1980s, so that kind of thing is our stock in trade," he said.

The Nerds used to do their own original stuff, like "If B's Were V's," with the inimitable lines, "Then I'd ve in lobe with you . . . We'd go out dribing in Fevruary. We'd have a lobe so true."

Then it all got too complicated, and audiences clamored for more "Sweet Caroline."

"The only original stuff we do now is jokes," said Garcia. "With the horns and all at the House of Blues, we'll be, well, more bluesy. We'll crank it up in that direction. We did a show with the percussionist and he started playing Latin beats, then the fiddler started doing his kind of overlay. It was the strangest combination of sounds you'll ever hear, but it was all really fun."

Garcia and bandmates keyboardist Mike Spiro, lead guitarist Peter Oltmanns and drummer Jack Yocum live in various Central or North Jersey locations, so they generally get to gigs individually.

They played a lot of corporate events from California to Arizona to Orlando through the winter but will decamp to their favorite Shore venues weeknights in the summer: Thursdays at the huge Jenkinson's Pier in Point Pleasant; Joe Pop's on Long Beach Island on Wednesdays.

They always seem to have a gig somewhere, Garcia said. "I've never had a day job. Well, that's not true. Sometimes we do a wedding during the day."

Even if you have to wear sweat-through plaid and taped-up glasses, and do a little Manilow, that doesn't seem like such a bad gig.

House of Blues at Showboat Atlantic City, 810 Boardwalk, 609-343-4000, 9 tonight, $10,